A (mostly) light-hearted look at my transition from Working Girl to Military Spouse. And why GEORGIA is on my mind…
Regular readers know that the past year was a flurry of change: I quit my job, got married, moved to Italy, learned another language, and assumed the role of military spouse. Conversely, 2016 was slated to be all kinds of laid back – travel, visits with friends, Saturday nights eating pizza on the couch. But these dreams were dashed when (dun dun dun!) Billy received an “exciting” leadership position in rural Georgia. Beginning in three months.
My reaction was nothing short of shock and awe. And anger. Definitely anger.
Welcome to the Family
In order to understand this reaction, dear Reader, we need to back up a bit. The Italian culture isn’t the only one I’ve been submerged in these many months; I’ve also been navigating (ever so tentatively) the terrain of my new military community.
Initially, it didn’t feel like my community at all. The self-important acronyms, the uniforms, the armed guards on my way to yoga – not really my scene. People were friendly though, often declaring, “Welcome to the family!” I responded as I do to all organizations that tout their mission or recruit too enthusiastically: with suspicion. But I had nothing against the military per se and, in my defense, I show the same ambivalence towards organized religion, political camps, and anyone who subscribes too fervently to the Paleo diet. The people were kind, the base was adequate… but it was Billy’s domain. Not mine.
Come to think of it… everything was Billy’s. The coworkers were Billy’s, the promotions were Billy’s, even the social security number given at my medical appointments was Billy’s! When asked to confirm my place in the organization, I routinely checked the box marked Dependent. Gross. Not that I didn’t have “opportunities” too – going to spouse luncheons or maybe taking an entry level job for a third of my normal pay… Ugh. Where was Independent Malia? I missed her.
Then, I decided to roll with it – we were only abroad for a year or so right? When we returned to the States, Billy would work on base and I’d be back in the office. Life would resume normally. So what if I was a housewife for now? It meant every moment William was home, the chores were done and all of our time was quality time. I made dinner every night (even though I hate cooking). I brought side dishes to the Air Force Family picnics (more cooking). I went to International Spouse Club luncheons (yes, that’s a real thing). I cleaned the house (laaaaaame!). I wrote blogs (is anyone reading?). I booked trips (okay, no complaints with this one).
But I did it all, assuming it was temporary. Sure, I was baking casseroles and being spousey, but I was doing it ironically. Like, “Hey guys, watch me wife so hard right now! Ha ha! Can you believe this shit? HILARIOUS!”
Living in rural Georgia made it…. real.
A Fact-Finding Mission
So, dear Reader, I was angry. I felt duped, if by no one else than by myself. This new position requires Billy and I to live on base, placing my professional contacts an ambitious commute away in Atlanta. To make matters worse, everyone was trying to make me feel good about it! They said it wasn’t only an opportunity for Billy, it was an opportunity for me too – for me to support him and inspire other spouses by leading by example. Huh? Nice try.
But I didn’t need to be placated, what I needed was information. So I did what anyone scoping out a new love interest or job would do: I cyberstalked. First, I consult a map. Yup, social Siberia. But! The base housing looks nice – that’s a start. Okay, what about the local Spouse Facebook page (every base has one), surely they have some events going on. Let’s see there’s the…
- Crazy Hat Luncheon – The First Of Its Kind! (Mmm, no thanks.)
- Knutty Knitters Meet Up (Tempting… but I’d rather be Netflixing.)
- All Natural Household Cleaner Class (That sounds so boring I might die.)
<<Scrolling… scrolling…>> Ah! Job Opportunities. Here we go!
- Frito-Lay’s now hiring warehouse workers (What’s warehouse work?)
- Looking for volunteers to work the upcoming dog show… on POOP PATROL!! (Sweet mother of god. Am I being Punk’d?!)
I needed help. I couldn’t talk to Billy, after all it was his overachieving that got us into this Middle (of nowhere) Georgia pickle, was it not? No, I needed someone else. And that’s when I did something drastic (for me) – I reached out. I messaged the Spouse Facebook page, explaining our upcoming move and inquiring about the area.
To my surprise, I had a response within minutes: “I read your message. It would be best to talk on the phone.” Signed, Hope.
Then There Was Hope…
Hope introduces herself as a long time Georgia resident and military spouse. For no reason I can pinpoint, I like her immediately. And I’ll say this for the woman: she made me no promises, she told me no lies.
“Listen. I’m not gonna blow smoke up your butt. You asked about restaurants and fun and I thought, oh no! I need to talk to this woman. Bless your heart honey, we don’t really have any of that here!” she chuckles. “Don’t get me wrong though. Georgia livin’ is pleasant, but sloooowwwww. The good news is, it’s a great place to raise a family. My kids can’t fart in this town without me knowing about it.”
………. a long, pregnant pause falls over the line (if you will)……
Ignoring that comment, I tell Hope this is Billy’s first command position. When she asks which squadron he will be commanding, I venture, “Umm… the finance one?” The Comptroller Squadron, she informs me (glad someone knows what’s going on).
“So… this means you’ll be a Commander’s Wife!” she says, sounding almost amused.
Yes, I concede. But with no official authority to exact change, I admit I’m not sure what the role entails.
“Well, people may come to you for emotional support. And you need to show face for your husband’s sake but, honey, you don’t need to be one of those wives.”
<<Let’s sidebar, dear Reader… The military takes – and needs – all types. From postal workers to biochemical engineers, every kind of educational and socioeconomic background is present in this community. The same, honestly, can be said of military spouses. But what Hope is referring to here is the occasional spouse who hits the Kool-Aid too hard.
I once heard a woman expound that by doing dishes and folding her husband’s underwear she was allowing him to focus solely on work, thereby protecting our American freedoms and allowing millions to sleep at night knowing they are safe from terrorism. (Is that the national anthem playing in the background?). What in the amber-waves-of-grain was this woman talking about?>>
I tell Hope about this conversation and she laughs.
“Folding undies for freedom? Bless her heart!” (It’s at this point I realize the phrase ‘bless your heart’ can be used as a polite, Southern way to call someone a stupid mother fucker). “Here’s the deal,” she continues, “Be yourself, okay? You might need to host the occasional white glove tea party, but BE. YOURSELF.”
White glove tea party? I change the subject, “What about working in Atlanta? I have some contacts there.”
Hope says it’s a haul while stressing, “But you can do it.” I inquire about Macon, a city closer by, and she asks if I carry. A moment passes before I realize she means a gun.
“…Because I do. I do carry. We’re off the map here but you never know with all this ISIS stuff going on,” she confides.
Judging by everything I’d learned thus far, an appearance by ISIS seemed too much to hope for. But I did enjoy the idea of Hope and I attending white glove tea parties and strolling under dogwoods while packing heat in our handbags. I smile in spite of myself.
“Hope….what time is it there?” I ask, realizing it was early afternoon in Italy.
“Oh, it’s around 6AM. But never you mind, I saw your message and figured you needed to talk.”
This was a woman I had never met, with whom I shared nearly nothing in common, and she took my call at six in the morning? A small voice in the back of my brain whispers, Welcome to the family. I thank her profusely but Pistol Packing Hope waves me off, insisting I save her number because, “Girl! You’re gonna need it when you get here!”
I hang up the phone and sit quietly for a few minutes. Hope confirmed my small town fears, but I begin to think about why I’m going to Georgia – and it sure as heck isn’t for you, America! It’s for my William. Because, unlike other men before him, he isn’t put off by my independent streak. He never asks me to be a little less so he can feel like he’s a bit more. And because we both know, without question, that the two of us are simply better together.
So now, dear Reader, there’s nothing left to do but get excited about Georgia. In the meantime, I’ll be here – making America great – one load of laundry at a time. USA! USA!